ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (AP) — Two NASCAR novices are taking interesting spins around Road America this weekend.
Conor Daly and Katherine Legge traveled different paths to get ready for their first Xfinity series rides at the rural Wisconsin road course.
Primarily an IndyCar driver, Daly trained for months for this race, which will be his NASCAR debut. He worked out in the gym, spent time in a simulator and even had Roush Fenway Racing teammate Ryan Reed keep tabs on how he got in and out his No. 6 Ford.
“The first time I saw him get in and out of the thing, it was like a five-minute process because it was his first time doing it,” Reed said.
Daly faced an unexpected distraction Friday when Lilly Diabetes pulled its sponsorship, citing a racially insensitive remark made by the driver’s father, Derek, in the 1980s that surfaced this week.
Derek Daly is a freelance racing analyst, as well as a former CART and Formula One driver. Longtime Indianapolis Colts radio voice Bob Lamey said recently that Daly used a racial slur for African-Americans during an interview with him in the 1980s.
Daly — who had just moved to the United States then — admitted in a statement that he used the slur but claimed the term had a different meaning and connotation in his native Ireland. Daly said he was “mortified'” when he learned how the term was used in the United States and has never used it since then.
“Finally, I want everyone to know I deeply regret and sincerely apologize for what I said more than three decades ago,” the elder Daly said in his statement.
Conor Daly, 26, wasn’t born when his father made the comment.
“The last (24 hours) have been quite an unnecessarily difficult ride for my family. There is A LOT I want to say… but I’m still here and still racing,” Daly wrote on Twitter on Friday night.
Daly thanked Roush Fenway and Twitter followers for their support, as well as his former sponsor.
Legge, like Daly, has IndyCar experience. Most recently, the British driver has enjoyed success in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series with three wins and nine podium finishes over the last two seasons.
A close call in a prior race around the 14-turn Wisconsin road course didn’t keep Legge from returning for her second career NASCAR race.
“I nearly died here once which is just a testament to how cool this place is to get back in and feel like it’s still one of my favorites,” she said.
Legge made her Xfinity debut at mid-Ohio, where she was running in the top 15 before blowing an engine on Lap 65.
All in all, not bad for a driver who, when compared to Daly, did little prep work ahead of her debut.
She said didn’t have time to get in a simulator. She did have time to consult with good friend and former teammate Andy Lally over videos and notes.
“It’s like when you first learn to drive,” Legge said. “The driving instructor tells you everything, but actually in doing it, there’s actually so many things going on in you head, it’s hard to actually do.”
When asked, Legge said a top 15 finish at Road America is realistic.
Mid-Ohio was “honestly one of the most fun experiences that I’ve had in a race car,” Legge said. “I’m super excited and looking forward to this one.”
The newcomers aren’t the only ones making their Road America debuts this weekend.
NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott is coming out of retirement to drive the No. 23 Chevrolet for GMS Racing on Saturday. The 62-year-old Elliott is a rookie only in the sense that he hasn’t raced previously at Road America.
He has plenty of advice to dispense, though. Daly said spoke with Elliott after he drove Elliott’s Cup car during a recent vintage weekend at Indianapolis.
“So, little did I know he would be racing, and he was coaching me initially. Pretty funny to see that,” Daly said. “You’ve got to be a sponge of information, right? You’ve got to soak it up and see what happens.”
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